It was really only a matter of time, and now it's official: Wal-Mart is moving into India. According to an article that appeared in The New York Times on Monday, Nov. 27, Wal-Mart, in a partnership with Indian cell phone company Bharti Enterprises, plans to open hundreds of stores in the country's exploding market.
Many in the industry see India as the last great retail frontier. With a growing middle class and a burgeoning economy, India is an enormous untapped opportunity that has been largely shut off from the influx of large foreign retailers by the government. Until now.
The movement of Wal-Mart into India is really the wrapping of the last finger of the fist of globalization around the throat of a nation that, until 15 years ago, was largely cut off from the global marketplace because of the government's socialist policies of central control and planning.
I take a special interest in this news for two reasons. First is that fact that I lived in India for an extended period and had the chance to see, first hand, the effects that globalization has had on India's traditional culture and economy. Second is the inevitability of the intense criticism that will be leveled at Wal-Mart for this move, in conjunction with the normal condemnation of the effects of globalization that we tend to hear in the liberal college setting.
It is very, very easy to jump on board with the many people that would quickly denounce that influx of global corporations into places like India. The list of negative effects is long and significant: decimation of culture, exploitation of workers, pollution, etc. Sounds terrible right? Yes, but in a place like India, that's not the end of the story. Consider this: a booming economy, a growing middle class, millions moving out of poverty. For those who strongly oppose globalization, think about a typical urban Indian man. For the last decade, he has been able to feed his family because of the decent wage that he can earn working construction, thanks to the global companies that flood India's cities demanding office space. His family no longer sleeps on the streets under a plastic tarp. They can afford occasional trips out of the city, and he's saving money to put his children through college. He owns a cell phone, and likes to dress in Western styles. His Hindu cultural background isn't as important to him as it was to his parents, but he doesn't need to worry about his family going hungry.
Go to India. Tell him, to his face, that you don't believe that the thousands of corporations whose effect on the economy has drastically changed his life for the better should be in the country. Frankly, I cannot see many people being willing to do this.
I don't deny that are still massive problems in India. Millions of rural poor still wallow in poverty, and more companies moving into the nation is certainly not going to fix this. I am also not attempting to take a stance on whether or not the particular move of Wal-Mart into India is a good thing or not. You've probably got your mind made up already. In addition, I fully acknowledge that economic improvement is not the case in every nation that has experienced globalization. But when thinking about the effects that the phenomenon has on the world, I urge everyone to keep the example of India in mind. It's simply undeniable: years of socialist policies hurt the nation and left millions in misery, and the opening of the economy and influx of global corporations has helped to greatly improve the lives of many of those people.
Just think about that while you're painting your protest banner.